Zags? NCAA Streak One Of Many Sweet 16s

SAN DIEGO — Every year, Selection Sunday comes and goes with very little angst or teeth gnashing for Gonzaga basketball fans. Reaching the NCAA Tournament, one of the most unpredictable events in all of sports, is in essence a lock for their Zags.

That doesn’t mean Mark Few takes it for granted.

“To make it to 16 straight of these,” Gonzaga’s coach said on Thursday, “it’s one of the things we’re most proud of.”

Rightfully so. It’s a testament to what Few, and his predecessors/mentors, have built in Spokane: a program that is not only the model of consistency, but also one that registers on a national level.

The Bulldogs’ have laced up their dancing shoes every year since 1999. Only three programs, all blue bloods in college basketball’s hierarchy, have longer active streaks. Kansas leads the pack with 25 consecutive appearances in March’s maddest tournament, while Duke and Michigan State have qualified for 19 and 17 straight, respectively.

In case you’re wondering, the record is 27. North Carolina earned a bid to the tourney every season from 1975 through 2001.

So on the eve of the Zags’ 16th straight appearance in the sport’s most hyped and coveted event — they play Oklahoma State on Friday — let’s examine some other significant 16s in Gonzaga history.

First up is the Sweet Sixteen. The Bulldogs have advanced to this round of the tournament five times, including four with Few at the helm. The Zags last made it this far in 2009, but their most memorable Sweet Sixteen run is the original, which came in 1999 and actually ended with an appearance in the Elite Eight.  

Next up is 16 losses. That’s how many times the Bulldogs have suffered a setback in the NCAA Tournament. Compare that, though, to the 18 wins the Zags have collected. Not too shabby, especially considering, with all but one exception, the season for every team competing in this crazy bracket challenge ends with a loss.

For those who would still scoff at a record barely hovering above .500, understand winning on this stage is not easy. And the Bulldogs have done it better than most. They are one of but a handful of teams that have won at least one game in each of the last five tournaments.

Still prefer a better record? How about 16-0? Gonzaga won every one of its West Coast Conference games during the 2012-13 season. That marked the fourth time during this golden age of GU hoops that the Zags have completed an unblemished jaunt through the WCC.

Sixteen also holds some significance for individual Zags. For instance, three players — Ronny Turiaf, Blake Stepp and Frank Burgess — share the record for free throws made in a game. Turiaf accomplished the feat most recently, canning 16 of them in an NCAA Tournament win over Cincinnati in 2003.

Stepp, meanwhile, also possesses the Gonzaga record for assists in a game. The All-American guard doled out 16 assists in a blowout win over Long Beach State in 2002.

Finally, Matt Santangelo, a key cog in the group that breathed unprecedented verve into the program, made 16 shots from behind the 3-point line during his NCAA Tournament career, which spanned seven games. That mark is third all-time among Zags, trailing only Steven Gray (21) and Richie Frahm (18).

Clearly, the number 16 has been sweet for the Bulldogs. Perhaps they’ll add some greater meaning to that figure with another memorable March.



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